Book Review: Homeland (The Dark Elf Trilogy Book 1), by R.A. Salvatore

Several weeks ago, as I browsed for… whatever it was I was browsing at Shelfari, I came upon this blog post about author R.A. Salvatore and how he approached writing fight scenes. This interested me for several reasons, the two primary ones being that I also liked writing fight scenes and that I was starting to develop a fantasy novel at that point, so knowing Salvatore by name (even if I had never read a book of his before) I wanted to see his take on fantasy fighting scenes. I was happy to see we agreed on many points and basically approached fighting scenes in the same way, with the only difference being that he is a bestselling author and I haven’t published a single novel yet (but hey, it’s a start). As I got to the question of “What is your favorite fight scene that you’ve ever written?“, I knew I had to read those fight scenes for myself.

So congratulations, R.A. Salvatore, you have made another sale!

Thing is, I didn’t buy any of the books containing those fight scenes. All of them were showcased in books well into their own series, so buying those specific novels meant I would be lost. What’s the point of reading a fighting scene out of context? That’s like watching Transformers 3, a bunch of amazing CGI effects with no emotional context behind them to make you care, which means that no matter how great they look they’ll still be boring.

So instead I went to a good starting point in the Salvatore universe, and bought the Dark Elf Trilogy.

The Dark Elf trilogy is the origin story of Drizzt Do’Urden. Drizzt is a drow elf, meaning a subspecies of elf that lives in the Underdark. These elves are generally evil, because… well, I guess because having to use night vision 24/7 is incredibly irritating and makes you an ass. Now, I have never liked this type of generalizations regarding species or subspecies. It’s just too easy a copout, like making the entire race of Klingons in Star Trek warriors, or the entire race of Vulcans in Star Trek super smart logical beings, or basically any race ever showcased in Star Trek being all the same (except for humans, of course, because our signature trademark is our amazing diversity! Take that, rest of the Universe, hahahaha!). However, the Forgotten Realms from which these stories spawn are a series of D&D games, so for the sake of simplicity I can forgive the generalizations. Also, in this case the generalization is an important part of the story because it turns out Drizzt is one of those few drows that do not like to be evil, so he rebels against the system. Homeland covers the first thirty years or so of his life, in which he is forced to learn and embrace the ways of the drow, and ultimately abandons his people (no need for a spoiler alert, it’s not as if you couldn’t see that coming).

Even though it wasn’t a page turner and there were no amazing fight scenes (only good ones), I enjoyed it. It’s interesting to read a story about the bad guys for a change, despite the main character being a good guy at heart. It also makes for more tension, because while you know Drizzt is going to live through this book and a myriad of others, you feel for his character and what he has to go through. I mean, 99.99999% of those around him are willing to kill him if they can get away with it, his mother included (yeah, when your mother was the first one to try to kill you, you know things are bad).

Speaking of getting away with killing, that’s basically how drow society is structured. Houses – in other words, big families under one name – wage war against one another, if one perceives weakness in the target; for example, losing the favor of the Spider Queen, the deity the dark elves worship. This is done to gain a better ranking in the city, as the better the ranking, the more respect coming your way. Also, the eight highest ranked Houses comprise the council that makes the big decisions in Menzoberranzan, the drow city. In an interesting case of contradictions, obliterating another House is illegal, but only if you are caught. For that, any surviving member of the defeated House has to file a complaint to the council of eight. If you are not caught, then everyone else just turns a blind eye to the fact a House no longer exists, and secretly applauds the deed. In other words, the attacker must make sure it completely wipes out the other House, or they will be destroyed in turn by the ruling of the council. What is being punished here is not the attack but the failure to do it efficiently. Dark Elf society is structured for evil.

Another interesting aspect is how drow society is very matriarchal, where males are there only for reproduction and cannon fodder for the wars. In fact, they resemble insect societies like bees and ants, except that the drow don’t have an elf queen per se and much less would sacrifice their lives for the good of the many. It’s a nice deviation from the usual male dominated fantasy.

Will I read the next installments in the trilogy? Well, of course; I bought the three-in-one volume, so I kinda have to. But besides that, Homeland made for a good introduction into the character, almost like a teaser story, and you know it can only get better from here.

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